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Meeting Mother Teresa

Meeting Mother Teresa. From left, Columban Fr. Maurice Hogan, Mother Teresa, Ms. McAteer and Columban Fr. Donal McIlraith
The Drive of a Lifetime

By Fr. Donal McIlraith

In the late 1980s I was finishing my studies in Rome. I was not able to engage full time in pastoral work, as I would like, so I worked two hours a week with the Missionaries of Charity. They ran a shelter for homeless men near the main station in Rome.

One evening when I arrived, the Indian Sister in charge said, “Father, Mother is in town. Would you like to meet her?” Sister then instructed me on how to cross Rome to the convent attached to the old Church of St. Gregory the Great. It was from this church that St. Augustrine set out to evangelize England.

Fr. Donal chauffeuring Mother Teresa
Fr. Donal chauffeuring Mother Teresa

The Sister who admitted me said, “Mother is at supper with the Sisters, please wait here” and led me to a small parlor. Perhaps a half an hour later, Mother arrived and sat down with me and chatted with me for about fifteen minutes. Looking back now, I realize what a grace it is to have been given fifeen minutes of the life of a great saint. She told me how the order had been founded and about its spread. Recently the communist government in Russia had invited her to open a home for the elderly, I think, in Moscow. She said when they showed her the house, they pointed out the various rooms and their functions. When they came to a certain room they said, “This will be for Him” — the chapel. She had been invited to start two convents in South Africa, one for white Sisters and one for black. She refused. “When it becomes possible,” she said, “I will start a convent with my whitest and blackest Sisters together!” Her great hope was to open a convent in China. She said that back in 1964 she brought in the hour of adoration before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every day for all the Sisters. This she said, “was when the congregation really took off.”

The minutes went by quickly. I was not overawed, I recall, but felt I was with a person of immense goodness whose very presence wanted you to be and do good. At the end of our meeting she asked me what I was doing. “Mother, I am teaching seminarians.” “I have advice for your seminarians. Please tell them to do an hour every day with Jesus before the Blessed Sacrament, go to confession every week, and do some penance.” I realized, the next day, she was speaking to me also.

When Mother departed, the superior showed me out. She remarked, “Mother is going back to India tomorrow.” Knowing that they depend completely on providence, I asked, “How is she getting to the airport? “Nothing is arranged yet,” was the reply. I offered to drive her to Da Vinci Airport, and my offer was accepted. Next morning, I arrived in the Columban car to collect her and the two Sisters who accompanied her. Some friends were in Rome, Columban Fr. Maurice Hogan and the McAteers from Derry. I surprised them by suggesting they come with me and meet Mother Teresa with the proviso that they must find their own way home. They were delighted.

Statue of Mary, Mother of JesusI arrived the next day to collect Mother. I asked Mother if we could take some photos. She agreed, but I could sense she was not happy. Just last year when I shared this story with the Missionaries of Charity in Blarney, Cork, an elderly Indian sister explained. “Mother,” she said, “hated photos. She finally agreed with Jesus that she would allow some but He had to release a soul from purgatory for every photo.” I figure I have made a few people happy in heaven.

The journey to Leonardo Da Vinci Airport was an amazing experience for me. Mother was quite tiny but all the way along people spotted her and cheered. And most of the cars we passed also hooted. We chatted all the way there. It was at that time that the new Catechism of the Catholic Church was announced. Mother was delighted at the prospect. I mentioned that I had read there was opposition from some quarters of the Church. Mother then asked me to write a prayer for the reception of the new catechism. I objected that I was not used to writing prayers but she insisted. We got to the airport safely, and I said goodbye.

“Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart, so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the bread of life, love him as you loved him and serve him in the distressing disguise of the Poorest of the Poor.”

Mother Teresa

It is not every day that Mother Teresa asks you to do something. I wrestled with the prayer and got some help. About a year later, Mother was back in Rome, and I brought the prayer to her. She was interviewing novices and dealing with me in between the novices. In no time all she made a beautiful prayer out of my poor efforts. I include it here.

Mother asked me to send her some copies. I was then posted to Fiji and eventually sent a good number of prayer cards to her in India. In the back I put the image of our Lady of Guadalupe which was the catechism of South America. Mother wrote to me twice from their convent in 54a, A.J.C. Bose Rd. in Calcutta, and I conclude with her words to me.

“Dear Fr McIlraith,

I am very happy to know that you are involved with the formation of priests and brothers and that you teach the New Testament to them. The enclosed prayer is very good and I am sure much good fruit will be produced through the new Catechism.

Yes, in these present days when faith is very much lacking and questioned, we ought to be careful how we present the Truth. There should be no compromise but be like Jesus when He told His Apostles “Will you also go away?”

Let us pray very fervently especially for the youth that they may grow in the one true Faith and that we get many vocations for Religious life and the priesthood.

Please continue to pray for us and our poor. God bless you. (20.4.’90)” 

When I sent the cards to Mother she wrote again and sent me a prayer: 

“Thank you for your kind letter of 7th May and for the copies of the beautiful prayer you wrote for the reception of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Through this prayer may the Lord open the hearts of many to His saving truth and love. Our sisters to are also doing a prayerful and regular study of the truths of our Faith and it is a great help in the pursuit of holiness. I trust that the new Catechism will bear fruits of great holiness in the lives of God’s children.

I shall look forward to receiving the shipment of these prayer cards which you have so kindly sent. When they come, I will be sure to distribute them to the sisters.

Keep the joy of loving Jesus in your heart and share that joy with all you meet. God bless you.

M Teresa mc. (27 May 1994)”

Mother enclosed a prayer of her own for me:

“Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart, so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the bread of life, love him as you loved him and serve him in the distressing disguise of the Poorest of the Poor.”

Columban Fr. Donal McIlraith lives and works in Fiji. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church Prayer

Merciful and loving Father, we give you thanks for the new Catechism.    
We accept it as an instrument for these times to strengthen our faith, hope and love.    
Give us your Spirit to be with is as we receive this gift from the Church for our study and use.    
May the Spirit root the word firmly in our hearts so that we may have faith in your Son, our Saviour.    
Through your Spirit, may we have a stable and educated Faith.    
Through your Spirit, may we share in the fruits of our redemption through the sacraments.    
Through your Spirit, bend our minds and hearts to your commands    
Through your Spirit, teach us how to pray.    
Give us the joy of loving that comes from the true faith.    
May we proclaim the Good News to the Poor through our love and action 
By the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saints Peter and Paul and all the Apostles, may we 
  experience a new Pentecost to confirm our faith and love so that we may be your Church, 
  your People, the body of your Son 
This we ask through Christ, your Son our Lord. Amen